Remember when we thought Toyota was going to show a production version of the new Supra at the Geneva auto show this past spring, and then it turned out to be a concept for a race car?
They’re back to tease us again, and it’s still not with the production car. That’s right – it’s another race car. This one, though, is more than a concept.
This stock car version of the 2020 Supra (that launch year detail about the production car was confirmed at this reveal) is set to compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series starting at the first race of the 2019 season at Daytona International Raceway next February.
There are a lot of things that are fascinating about the decision to place Supra in a NASCAR national series.
The first is that wedging a car with unique and dramatic design elements into NASCAR’s highly controlled Xfinity template is no easy task.
To help, Toyota Racing Development recruited its design partner, Calty Design Research of Newport Beach, California. Supra joins a long list of styling projects that Calty has worked on with Toyota that includes the last three versions of the Camry from the Monster Energy Cup Series, the Tundra from the Camping World Truck Series, and the FT-1 concept on which the new Supra is based.
“A big part of the challenge on this car was that, honestly, we couldn’t really change a lot (from the previous Camry Xfinity car),” says Kevin Hunter, President of Calty Design Research. “The front face of the production car is very sculptural, very three-dimensional. We had to figure out how to get that impression into this car.”
The Xfinity template is more restrictive than the Cup template to help keep development costs down for the second-tier series, which leaves the design team with only a scant few areas that are legal to modify: the hood, upper half of the nose, front fenders, quarter windows, and the rear of the tailgate. Everything else must stay in strict compliance.
That said, this still leaves more room than one would think for aerodynamic improvement, from subtle shifts in the body work to more extensive development in the undertray.
“It’s a box, it’s not a singular data point,” says David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development’s President and General Manager. “Competitively, there’s a corner of that box that is the most optimum corner to be in, where you have the least amount of drag, you have the most amount of downforce. As we evolve our cars, we try and work closer and closer to that optimum.”
The most dramatic section of body work on the new Supra is the air scoop structure around the headlights. Toyota and Calty managed to integrate this into the final design – though the scoops are sealed off and not functional on the Xfinity car – while creating a minimum of aero disturbance.
“Looking at this area in this transition in this corner,” says Andy Graves, Group Vice President and Technical Director for TRD, “it would be really important for us to make sure that we’re keeping the air attached at that point. Otherwise, you can have some pretty serious problems, especially as it pertains to the air reattaching to the deck lid downstream and keeping rear downforce on the car.”
Graves and his crew demonstrated their success by putting the car on display at the Aerodyn wind tunnel in Mooresville, South Carolina, and using a smoke wand to show how air passes directly over the scoops and around the side panels without dispersing.
Whether this will be a success in a race situation is a complete unknown until February. Research and development technologies have advanced at a stunning pace, but they still can’t perfectly simulate the high traffic and air turbulence of an active race. At any rate, Toyota says so far, so good.
The second thing that’s intriguing about putting a Supra in NASCAR is that it runs counter to the entire reason that Toyota entered the sport in the first place. If Toyota uses NASCAR to show off how American it is, why choose Supra? It’s not being built in the United States – it will be assembled in Europe at Magna Steyr’s facility in Graz, Austria, as a joint initiative with the BMW Z4 – and there may never have been another nameplate more steeped in Japanese motoring lore.
“It’s a good time for it,” says Paul Doleshal, Senior Manager of Motorsports and Asset Management for Toyota Motor North America. “I think we’ve grown to a level of acceptance within the sport that allows us to embrace the global nature of our business – all OEMs are global businesses – so, to be able to explore some of the product and not be shy of our global presence.”
“We’re still relevant in that Americanization piece with Camry and Tundra and where they’re produced (Kentucky and Texas, respectively), and that is still is a major part of our conversation. But we shouldn’t be ashamed or shy of anything we build. We build some of the best cars in the world, and we’re proud of it. We shouldn’t be ashamed to put them on a racetrack and let them compete against everybody else.
“We’ll see the acceptance numbers, see how it goes when it gets on track at Daytona, and we’ll go from there.”
With this launch and the concept from Geneva, that’s now two Supra-related products that have been dangled before enthusiasts like proverbial carrots. And Toyota’s not done yet: a third racing iteration, completely separate from the sports car racing or NASCAR realms, is to be announced before the production car’s ultimate reveal.
“We’re working on some initiatives to bring Supra back to the consciousness of the world,” Wilson says. “It’s going to be really, really cool. NASCAR is not the be all, end all. It’s just part of the strategy for Supra.”
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